The Lincoln Highway – Amor Towles

Yes, it took me a month to listen to all 16.5 hours of this beautifully produced and cast audiobook, because I limited my listening to long car trips. For once, flying through this engaging, mesmerizing story was not as good as putting it aside for a bit here and there and chewing over what I had heard. “The Lincoln Highway” is an odyssey. Emmett Watson is released early from Salina, a reformatory, because his father died and he needs to take care of his gifted, insightful, charming little brother Billy. (Emmett inadvertently killed a bully in a fight.) Their mother deserted the family years earlier. Their father, always a failing farmer had lost the farm. So the brothers decide to follow postcards their mother addressed to them but they never received. They discovered these in their father’s possessions, documenting her move to California along the Lincoln Highway when she fled Nebraska. The brothers’ decision to follow her path and try to find her goes awry when Duchess and Wooly appear. They are friends of Emmett’s from Salina and they have a plan that means they want to head East. Neighbor Sally, friend/classmate/once a semi-girlfriend to Emmett, brings common sense and a burgeoning 1954 feminist sensibility to the mix. One way or another, everyone ends up on the road. This is one of those books where you could repeatedly say, “My favorite character is….” “The worst person in this book is…” “I was/was not rooting for…” “That time when they stopped at X was so touching, scary, dangerous, funny, stupid.” “When X appeared on the train, at the circus, in the Empire State Building, I was gripped by the story within the story.” Just as Billy is hooked on each classic story found in Professor Abacus Abernathe’s Compendium of Heroes, Adventurers, and Other Intrepid Travelers the reader is hooked on each episode that leads our heroes across the midwest to New York City and beyond. Each is on a quest and each interaction with outsiders along the way has a ripple effect. They get separated and reunited. We see particular experiences from each traveller’s point of view. Some people are hurt by their choices. Others are uplifted. Saying too much about “The Lincoln Highway” would require spilling one spoiler after another. There are stories of parents, families, individuals: irresponsible, intentionally or unintentionally cruel, immoral, rich, poor, vagabond dead or gone, who inform and shape these boys and girl. There are towns, cultures, traditions, ideologies and makeshift communities that enriched, spoiled, misled, enabled, ruined or stifled them. What happens to each character makes sense, but is not always what we want for that person: We love the sinners but not their sins. Towles is an amazing, lyrical writer and a plain, clear storyteller As long as it took me to read that book, I did not want it to end and I felt cast adrift when it was over.

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